23 July 2016

Alma Thomas: A Most Painterly Brush

One of the things we couldn't do was go into museums, let alone think of hanging our pictures there.” - Alma Thomas, from an interview in the New YorkTimes, 1972.

Manuals of Japanese brush painting include rules for how to make strokes; if that seems restrictive or inhibiting, just look at the paintings of Alma Thomas (1891-1978).  Like an instrumentalist whose diligence sets her free, Alma Thomas was able make Abstract Expressionism speak the joy of painting itself.  Even when seen in person where the brush strokes are the more vivid than in reproductions, the sense of movement seems redolent of joy, in contrast perhaps to the anguish viewers often find in the paintings of her contemporary Mark Rothko.

When the Thomas family, mother and father and four daughters, moved to Washington, D.C., the segregation of the nation's capitol was a giant step up from the constant threat of racist violence in their home state of Georgia.  The first student to graduate with a fine arts degree from Howard University, Thomas supported herself by teaching art while she painted.  Thomas experimented  with techniques and styles but when she arrived at Abstract Expression she used its means to shape feelings in paint, the definition of aesthetics.

Resurrection, (above)  is the first painting by Alma Thomas to be included in the official collection of the White House, in 2014.

Alma Thomas, the retrospective now on view at the Studio Museum in Harlem originated at the Tang Museum in Saratoga Springs this spring..  This path retraces an earlier one taken by Thomas's work,from the periphery to the center;  when the Whitney Museum opened Alma Thomas: A Retrospective in 1972 it was the first such exhibition at the Whitney devoted to the work of an African-American woman artist but it was the seventh solo exhibition for Thomas.

To read:
1. Phantasmagoria: Major Paintings from the 1970s by Alma Thomas, New York, Michael Rosenfeld gallery, New York: 2001.
2, Stroke!: Beauford Delaney, Norman Lewis & Alma Thomas, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York: 2005.

1. Alma Thomas (1891-1978)  - Resurrection, 1966, Collection of the White House Historical Association, Washington, D.C.

2. Alma Thomas - Irises, Tulips Jonquils, and Crocuses, 1968, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.


Tania said...

I like her colors, Jane. (Yesterday I thought of you, you will see next week on T&P.)

Jane said...

Merci, Tania. Alma Thomas, moi aussi. J'attendss avec impatience la semaine prochaine.

Tania said...

Ce sera pour jeudi.